St. Paul's Lutheran Church
This is also the response of the Church to the world: holy habits. This is the intentional, repetition of a practice with the goal of being formed and shaped into the people God desires. Paul also speaks to this reality. “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9) Paul admonishes the people of God to actually engage in formative practices to better become the people God desires. And this work is solely accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
So, in a time when you’re inundated with adverts to lose weight, become better with your money, and read more books, reflect first on what Christ does for you daily. The forgiveness of your sins in the waters of baptism. The daily death and resurrection of Jesus that you have every single day. But also, take Paul seriously and engage in new habits, and continue others, that will more and more form and shape you to be the people God desires. Engage in holy habits. Attend the Divine Service. Hear God’s Word. Receive His Body and Blood. Mutually encourage and uplift your brothers and sisters in Christ. Also, study God’s Word. Meditate on it. Learn and receive the traditions of the Church that have been handed down, from age to age. Pray with the Church. Pray for your country. In the freedom given you in Jesus, serve others with joy. My challenge for you for this year is: find one spiritual discipline you are not doing and practice it. Form a holy habit. Habits are holy not because you are doing them, but because it is the Spirit of God working in you.
May God richly bless you and keep you this new year.
A New Year of Habit
You will undoubtedly read and hear many new exhortations to doing new things in the coming weeks. With my background in the book business, I can reflect on the “changeover” that would occur immediately after Christmas day (and I mean immediate). The entire store would flip from Christmas (so tired of that!) to New Year, New You. The old had passed away and behold the new had come!
This sells books, and it gets clicks, and eyeballs and ears on television screens. Because there is an element of satisfaction at being able to turn the page. The turning of the calendar is an opportunity to turn away from all of the things that you were doing and toward all of the things you want to be doing. New things. Exciting things. The range is exhaustive—diet, fitness, time-management, relieving stress, career, acquiring languages, taking up hobbies. And this appeals. We feel old and tired (because most of us are), so we want something new to enliven us. Regeneration and renewal. New year, new you.
There are two responses the Church has to this. First, the oppression of bad habits, and missed opportunities, and a desire to be absolved from all of it is a real thing because of…sin. I know, I know, you’re tired of hearing about sin, but it is the old thing in all of us. But every single day, in the life of a Christian, is day when we live in a new reality. Every day is a day of dying and rising. Every day. Because in our baptism, the Old Adam is drowned, and the New Adam comes forth. Dying and rising. This is not accomplished by picking up new hobbies and getting in shape. It is accomplished solely for us by Jesus Christ. “Do you now know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into death? We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) Being incorporated into the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus makes us dead and alive every single day. This is the pattern for the life of a Christian: dying and rising. A man killed, and a man born every day. New day, new you. The life in the Church (the Body of Christ) is a life in the fullness of this reality.
Yet, there is also another response the Church has to the world’s preoccupation with renewal during the new year. That is habit. Habit might be best understood as a pattern or practice that is repeated
to achieve a desired goal. Habit is something that forms and shapes. Through repetition. That means, over and over again.